When lifting heavy weights, painful wrists can weaken your grip and take your focus off the exercise. If you’ve developed pain in your wrists from weightlifting, it could be a sign of strained ligaments or tendons, or a fracture. Get a conclusive diagnosis to prevent further damage and get the right treatment and recovery plan in place. If the pain is mild and you see no swelling or redness or experience no sharp pain -- which is a signal to stop immediately -- try resting or changing your workout to reduce the stress on your wrists if possible.
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Identifying Wrist Pain
If your wrists hurt only when you lift weights or otherwise stress them in activities such as sports or yard work, you have likely strained a tendon or ligament or other tissue in the wrist. If you have pain in your wrists all the time and there is some swelling and tenderness, you may have a fracture, according to the American Society of Surgery for the Hand. There are eight bones in the wrist, and usually a fracture occurs with an injury related to a fall in which your outstretched hand hits a hard surface. However, stress fractures, which are more common in the legs and feet, can also develop in the wrists due to overuse and stress on the joints.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome, a common source of chronic wrist pain, can be the result of extensive hand use. Lifting weights -- even light weights -- can exacerbate the condition. This can leave wrists in pain and sometimes with a tingling feeling. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the connective tissue around the flexor tendons in the wrist swells. The swelling puts pressure on the median nerve. This causes pain, numbness and sharp or stinging pains, especially in the thumb side of the hand and wrist, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. A brace or splint can help keep the wrist in a neutral position, but that can limit what you do lifting weights. Cortisone shots can relieve symptoms only. If the pain is severe enough, surgery can help open the "tunnel" where the tissue and tendons are located to relieve pressure on the nerves.
Another tissue-related and painful wrist condition is called syndesmosis. It refers to the interosseous tissue that helps keep the two large bones in the forearm, the radius and the ulna, in a stable position when the arm and wrist are in use. The strain of lifting weights -- which bends the wrist beyond the normal range of motion -- can damage the tissue over time and cause pain.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you experience wrist pain after lifting weights and you rest and ice your sore wrist a few days or a week before testing it again, you should be able to start identifying the problem. If the pain is gone or is much milder when you resume weightlifting, it was likely a strained tendon or ligament that has had time to heal. If the pain returns, or if rest and ice produced no relief, it may be a tissue-related condition that will need medical evaluation. A doctor can perform a physical exam, possibly take X-rays or run an MRI. She can ask you for specifics about what triggers the pain, what provides relief, how long you've had the pain and whether the pain is sharp or more like an ache.